Domestic Violence in Military Families: A Closer Look

Updated August 16, 2021
Military man during therapy session

The issue of domestic violence in military families was once largely overlooked and hidden from view. Now, rather than shrouding this problem with secrecy, persecution and blame, military family advocates opt for empathy and treatment. Learn more about domestic violence in the military as well as helpful resources.

Domestic Violence in Military Families

Domestic violence includes abusive and controlling behaviors such as physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse of a spouse or dating partner, or the neglect of a spouse. Along with all the anxiety that goes with nuclear family life, military families suffer additional stressors specific to their situations. Practice safety by educating yourself and your loved ones about the possible risks.

Risk Factors for Domestic Violence

While life in the armed forces isn't responsible for every episode of military domestic violence, an increase in stress and anxiety may trigger abusive behavior in men or women who are already at risk for aggression. This type of aggression can manifest itself in peacetime but is most prevalent before shipping out to war, as well as after returning from combat.

Risk factors for a military service member to perpetrate abuse against family members include:

  • Prior history of violence within the family
  • Witness to domestic violence during childhood
  • Isolation from family and support systems
  • Weapon accessibility
  • Stress factors, such as family separation and reunification
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder or battle fatigue
  • History of alcohol or drug abuse

If any of these risk factors apply to your family, you may want to keep a close eye on the situation. Draft a parenting plan that focuses on military family issues, and seek counseling to work on violence prevention.

Domestic Violence Statistics in the Armed Forces

Throughout the American military's history, domestic violence has often plagued families with enlisted members. As a result, in 2000 the military responded to the growing problem by forming the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence to assess the situation and formulate appropriate military responses.

A review found that:

  • Twenty-seven percent of men with PTSD reported physical violence against their partners in the previous year.
  • Ninety-one percent of men reported psychological abuse against a partner in the past year.
  • Both female and male military personnel have an increased chance of abusing a partner if they have depression.

From 2015 to 2019:

  • More than 15,000 domestic violence incidents were reported in the Army.
  • More than 7,000 incidents were reported in the Navy.
  • More than 5,000 incidents were reported in the Marine Corps.
  • More than 10,000 incidents were reported in the Air Force.

Department of Defense (DOD) defines domestic violence specifically as an offense with legal consequences; the DOD considers domestic abuse to be a pattern of physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect of spouse.

In 2018 alone:

  • 16,912 domestic abuse incidents were reported.
  • 6,372 domestic violence victims were identified.
  • Physical abuse accounted for 73.7 percent of incidents.
  • Emotional abuse accounted for 22.6 percent of incidents.

Getting Help

Domestic violence is unacceptable in any situation and requires immediate intervention. If you or someone you love is either a victim or a perpetrator of abuse, get help right away. The following resources can put you and your family on the path to recovery.

Non-Military Resources

When getting help for domestic violence, careful planning is important, as to not escalate the perpetrator's abuse. This often means seeking help without the perpetrator's knowledge and in some cases, leaving the relationship safely and in a way that the perpetrator cannot obstruct.

If you or a loved one is a victim of domestic violence and you do not want the perpetrator to know that you are seeking help, or fear what the perpetrator might do if they find out, listed below are resources you can contact that can help you with safety planning.

In cases of immediate danger, call 911.

Military Resources

If you feel comfortable seeking the help of military resources, they are also available to help victims of domestic violence, perpetrators, and their families. Their goal is not to end someone's military career, but rather, provide therapy and counseling to foster healthier interpersonal relationships. These programs include:

Please note that if you contact such military programs, there are situations in which they must report incidents of abuse to military law enforcement and command. Law enforcement would further investigate the situation and make any appropriate charges. The military member's command will proceed with providing appropriate assistance and treatment to the perpetrator and their family.

Continued Improvement

When it comes to domestic violence, both men and women can be victims as well as perpetrators. By increasing awareness, establishing support systems and encouraging reporting, the Department of Defense has opened the door to finding appropriate solutions.

Domestic Violence in Military Families: A Closer Look